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Explore how music can help mental health with Jennifer Buchanan at Studio Bell

By Ansharah Shakil, November 15 2023—

For many of us, music is something we can’t live without, something that gets us through our morning commutes and daily struggle of studying. Music is an experience, a talent, an art and a science. But music can also be a tool for our mental health, something renowned music therapist Jennifer Buchanan is illustrating right now at Studio Bell, the National Music Centre (NMC), where she is hosting a five-session series from Oct 20. to Nov. 24 that delves into how music can help improve work and personal life. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Buchanan discussed why she thinks music therapy, and this series in particular, are important for people and students to know about. 

“What this series is meant to do is [help us] deal with anxiety and stress and the worries of the world, but also ignite our creativity and innovation so we can better learn and feel engaged in what we’re doing including focus and productivity,” said Buchanan. 

Buchanan, who had just come home from a session, said what she enjoys most about her profession is seeing how people react to the music. 

“What I love about being a music therapist is how someone can light up when engaging in the music itself,” she explained. “Today one of the individuals I was working with came in feeling exhausted and absolutely worn-out and so […] we used music to get some of that energy and level of motivation they’re gonna need. They themselves said they felt approximately 60% more vibrant when they left the room than when they first entered.” 

You do not have to be a musician to attend the sessions, which utilize methods such as instrument exploring with percussion instruments like the claves and drumming, and music-based counselling questions to help those who have experienced loss and songwriting. 

“We use songwriting as a way for people to document their feelings, find melodies that bring a lightness to them,” Buchanan said. 

In one session, Buchanan shared the song “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls.

“It’s this concept of feeling closer to fine, and you know we sort of have been told that by saying that by saying oh I’m fine, you’re supposed to dig deeper. But really is there anything wrong with being fine? And maybe that is the goal sometimes,” she said. “This song really brings about some of the things we can do to get closer to fine.” 

One of the questions Buchanan is often asked is whether listening to sad music is bad, but she stresses that that is not the case.

“Lots of people seem to be attracted to sad music, as have I been, and what that does is it validates us,” she said. “Music can be the voice for the feelings we have, and when we get that level of validation and understanding from music and feel a bit better, that is excellent for our mental health.” 

Buchanan explained that music is an important tool for mental health, which requires many ingredients working together. This is something she hoped people would recognize during the sessions, as well as encouraging people to visit NMC in general.

“I hope people use music with more intention after the session,” she said. “I also want to introduce people to the [NMC] if they haven’t been there. It in itself is such a beautiful space to be present in your creative self and to explore music in a variety of different ways and engage in it. So the session is one thing but going on a visit through the rest of the centre is highly recommended.” 

Buchanan’s remaining sessions are called Tune in to Music for the Artist on Nov. 17, and Tune in to Music at Work on Nov. 24, and like her past ones, will focus on harnessing the power of music for the sake of bettering ourselves. 

“Music, when used in the right way, the right music at the right time, is so efficient. There’s no other activity we know of that lights up more areas of the brain simultaneously than when we listen to music that we engage in,” she said. “As music therapists our goal is to get our clients to engage with music, to actually be really present and partner with the music. That is what is going to allow us to efficiently address some of those feelings we’re needing to express.”

Student rates for sessions and museum access are available for this program. Admission and registration for sessions, as well as more information on the program, can be found on the Studio Bell website and Buchanan’s website.

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